Established on December 4, 1859, it was situated in the Hoopa Valley on the west bank of the Trinity River, some 14 miles above its junction with the Klamath River in Humboldt County. Located within the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation, it was intended to both control the area's Indians and to protect them against hostile depredations. The post was established by Captain Edmund Underwood, 4th Infantry, and named for 2nd Lieutenant William Gaston, 1st Dragoons, killed on May 17, 1854, during the campaign against the Spokane Indians. Originally called Fort Gaston, it was renamed Camp Gaston on January 1, 1846, and then redesignated Fort Gaston on April 5, 1867. Abandoned on June 29, 1892, the military reservation was transferred to the Department of the Interior on February 11, 1892, reserved for the use of the Indian Service.
Fort Gaston almost was the scene of a Hollywood-type extravaganza back in 1861. That was when the District Commander decided to gather all of the Indians to the post, then stage a demonstration of drilling and firepower that' would convince the Native Americans that they should be good Indians.
He planned to fire blank cartridges and the mountain howitzers. The idea fell through when he suggested to the Presidio that he would need six companies of infantry for the show.
This came at a time when troops were being pulled from the forts in the Humboldt. Gaston's commander protested that the transfer of any more men might have dire consequences.
"The excitement among the Indians has been great," he wrote. "Although I did not apprehend an attack from the Indians, I took the necessary precaution by issuing ammunition to my men and doubling my guards."
He said the local settlers were building a blockhouse, but would abandon their valley if any more troops were withdrawn. To complicate matters, he was the only officer at the post and was in such bad health he could not leave his room.
Gaston had its troubles from the day it was' established in 1858. It was in the Hoopa Valley, a rugged deep slash in the redwood forests of Northern California, and the woods came right to the edge of the open fort.
Ambushes of mail carriers and stages were common. At least twice, the horses of the mailman and his escort returned to the fort without riders. Once a settler found a note left by the carrier that he was "shot and mortally wounded." When his escort was located, there was a knife through his neck and his nose and flesh cut from his face.
On Christmas Day, 1863, a reverse type of battle with the Indians took place near Gaston. The Indians holed up in several log buildings, firing at troops from rifle ports, while the Army blasted them with the howitzers. Artillery accuracy wasn't too good and most of the first rounds went wild. By night fall the buildings were in ruins, but in the darkness the Indians were able to steal away.
Peace was finally signed with the Indians in 1865. Gaston, alternating between being called a fort and a camp, stayed in business until 1892 when it was abandoned.
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